Challenges and Opportunities for Communication between Age Groups

Authored by: Mary Lee Hummert

The Handbook of Intergroup Communication

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  June  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415889643
eBook ISBN: 9780203148624
Adobe ISBN: 9781136513619


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Age group membership is fluid, as individuals move through different age groups over their life spans. Yet age groups have the same issues of identity, intergroup stereotyping, and competition for status as groups with more stable memberships defined by characteristics such as race and sex (Harwood, Giles, & Ryan, 1995). In fact, along with race and sex, age is a primary cue in person perception (Milord, 1978), suggesting that age is one of the most salient, and perhaps automatic, ways of categorizing others as well as ourselves. This chapter addresses the intergroup aspects of communication between and about those in different age groups. It begins with an overview of approaches to defining age groups and the implications for communication. Next, using social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) as a framework and drawing on examples from print media, it examines rhetoric in the public arena which fosters intergenerational competition. The discussion includes a consideration of the validity of such rhetoric and alternative rhetorical strategies to reduce intergenerational competition. Following this discussion, the chapter applies communication accommodation theory (Giles, Coupland, & Coupland, 1991; see Chapter 19, this volume) to illuminate how intergroup factors, along with developmental and implicit processes, influence—and are reflected in—interpersonal communication between members of different age groups. Communication with adolescents and older adults is featured in this section as these two age groups are most at risk for negative stereotyping and stigma, reflecting their lower status relative to the middle-aged group (Zebrowitz & Montepare, 2000). The chapter concludes with a discussion of implications for intergroup theory and directions for future research on communication between age groups.

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